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Aurora, Colorado Mayor On New Probe Into Death Of Elijah McClain


The world is learning more about Elijah McClain. The 23-year-old African American man, a massage therapist and musician who played the violin for animals in shelters, was on his way home from a convenience store in Aurora, Colo., where he had bought some tea when he was surrounded by squad cars and police officers. The McClain family lawyer described on CNN what can be heard on the officers' body cams.


MARI NEWMAN: He's begging. He's pleading. He's saying, I'm a peaceful person; I'm a vegetarian; I don't eat meat; I don't even kill flies; I don't have a gun; I don't fight; my name's Elijah McClain; and, of course, the one we've heard so often, I can't breathe.

SIMON: Elijah McClain died not long after. That was last August 24. Only now is the state of Colorado making a full investigation into his death.

Mike Coffman, a former Republican congressman, is mayor of Aurora and joins us now. Mayor Coffman, thanks for being with us.

MIKE COFFMAN: Oh, thanks for having me.

SIMON: A preliminary investigation found no wrongdoing either by the officers who used what's been called a carotid hold or paramedics who injected him with ketamine, they say to calm Elijah McClain. You took office in December and said the first thing you wanted to do was take another look. This is June. Why has it taken this long?

COFFMAN: Well, it was to take - it was to put the issue at the front in terms of public policy. And we have. And we have. So our community has been dealing with this situation for the last 10 months, where I think the nation has just woken up to the issue now, to the circumstances surrounding - the tragic circumstances surrounding his death. So we have moved forward with a number of reforms to ensure that, as best we can, that the situation never happens again. We continue to move forward with reforms.

I think we started - we have started an independent investigation, and that started the beginning of the year, I think. But when the issue became more visible to the country, I think we reexamined that 'cause the decision was made by the city manager - we're a city manager form of government - and that there was a question about whether or not there was too much bias, quite frankly, towards law enforcement by the individual doing the independent investigation.

So we will be voting on July 6 on a new team or individual to do an independent investigation, to resume that again. And the governor has called for the attorney general to also work with us in terms of doing an independent investigation.

SIMON: This is Governor Polis. Do you have questions about the autopsy and the fact that, allegedly, all the body cameras fell off the officers?

COFFMAN: Well, I think we certainly looked at the issue and how to use a better system to vet those body cams fell off. But you can hear the...

SIMON: Did they fall off? I mean, do you have any suspicions about that? Yeah, 'cause you can hear at one point, one of the officers says, don't show your camera there, right?

COFFMAN: That's going to be subject to the investigation, and so I'm not going to try and predict the outcome of that. But we want to bring closure to the issue for our own community, for the country. And so I think it's important to have an independent investigation with credibility. But I think you can clearly track everything that's going on. The autopsy was inconclusive. There were three intervening factors - the preexisting conditions of Elijah McClain as a pretty fragile individual physically, the stress - the physical stress.

SIMON: I mean, fragile, but he also sounds, like, delightful.

COFFMAN: I'm sorry.

SIMON: He - well, we're running out of time, but he sounds like a singularly delightful and nonthreatening human being.

COFFMAN: He is. He was. And it was, in my view, preventable. And that's one of the things we've looked at in our policies and procedures and how we respond to - that we don't need to respond to all suspicious calls - or calls for suspicious behaviors. And so it's - that is something that, you know, we've learned from this tragic incident.

SIMON: Mayor Mike Coffman of Aurora, Colo., thanks so much for being with us.

COFFMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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